It is scary how few decent family Halloween films have been made in recent years. Not tenuously linked creature themed animations with a 5 second glimpse of a pumpkin. Proper, unapologetic, Halloween centred shivers squarely aimed at children. Happily things are about to change. That poor overworked Hocus Pocus DVD (and precious Tim Burton collection) can enjoy some time off this half term as you head for the cinema to scare the fidgets right out of your little monsters. Goosebumps 2 is here!
The unexpected love for 2015’s Goosebumps was a heartening thing to behold. Its winning combo of fond nostalgia and meta smarts proved irresistible for anyone with a well thumbed Night of the Living Dummy in their past. And the time elapsed since R.L. Stine (watch out for another Stan Lee style cameo…) was the tween thrills king saw many of those readers delight in introducing their own children to the pulse quickening, plot twisting, joy of Goosebumps.
Now, with cult cred established, a new director at the helm, Dylan Minnette off internalising pastures blue and Jack Black pragmatically taking a back seat, Goosebumps has another chance to reboot and some very interesting choices have been made. Though lightly garnished with Easter eggs to keep the grown ups from feeling entirely excluded this one belongs to those still young enough to get their eggs direct from the bunny.
Best friends Sonny (Jeremy Ray Taylor) and Sam (Caleel Harris) are determined to have the best Halloween ever. Partially because it’s a cool time of year, sure. But primarily because they have just launched their own junk clearing business and fully intend to clean up! Sonny’s sister Sarah (Madison Iseman) has more serious goals in mind: her college admission essay on fear, and the not unwelcome distraction of her cute friend Tyler (Bryce Cass). Being stuck babysitting the boys is NOT on her to do list.
As befits any good adventure film, the adults stay largely out of sight. Sam’s dad drops him off then drops off screen while Sonny and Sarah’s mum Kathy (Wendi McLendon-Covey) has to work a double. Their festivity-loving neighbour Mr. Chu (Ken Jeong) is technically an adult but he has like a million balloons to inflate to finish his giant purple spider display so…no. When things go awry it will be down to the kids to save the day and a familiar face has returned to ensure that their days go downhill, fast!
Ari Sandel directs with Darren Lemke providing the storytelling bridge between chapters and Rob Lieber (redeeming himself somewhat from his painful ventriloquism of poor Peter Rabbit) writing both story and screenplay. It is a relief that Lieber handles a real dummy with greater aplomb – putting wry wit and a whole new passion for family values into the snapping jaws of our old friend Slappy – who returns to tether us to the first film and terrify us anew.
Cackling like Robert Carlyle’s Rumpel, Slappy (Mick Wingert) both figuratively and literally electrifies the tidy town of Wardenclyffe, whose defunct Tesla Tower receives a second chance to wow the world. Only the kids can stop him and here Goosebumps 2 comes into its own, sidestepping stereotypes and subtly manipulating our expectations. The girl doesn’t get the guy but she does get over him fast. The friends bicker but never betray. The siblings are affectionate and the working single mum actually attracts a man (Chris Parnell, marvellous as Walter, love interest/Slappy’s Igor). And a foster son too…
Spooky with added “Ooo!” Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween is destined to become a family Halloween classic. Those words and the number of stars this review is sprinkled with might inspire some to clutch their candy bags and huff about hyperbole. However, they are fully deserved. It is rare to find a live action film for young audiences that is so politely subversive yet fun to watch. It presupposes that the world is fair and keeps the scares at a gentle ghost train pace. Never letting little ones forget that the goodies will prevail.
Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween opens across the UK on 19th October